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Content Based Learning is a study of both language acquisition and subject matter.

Instead of teaching language in isolation, the target language becomes the medium in which important information can be learned. When the students are studying a content area of interest (i.e. snakes, the Holocaust, immigration, etc), they are more intrinsically motivated to learn both the content and the language simultaneously. The students are actually able to use their new language. Content Based Learning is most appropriate at intermediate and advanced proficiency levels. Many models for Content Based Learning exist. In some schools, two teachers team-teach the content and language. In other schools, the content teacher and the language teacher link their classes and curriculum to compliment each other. The most challenging situation is where one teacher is responsible for both content and language, i.e. a Biology teacher whose class contains all ESOL students. The teacher must be an expert in both fields.
Some examples of content based curricula:

Immersion program Sheltered English programs Writing across the curriculum (where writing skills in secondary schools and universities are taught within subjectmatter areas like biology, history, art, etc.)

esented. In the WHAT to Present section, an important aspect is the content that is being presented. However, the question of how the content is to be presented in a language classroom must still be addressed. In this section we will examine a Content-Based Instruction approach to language teaching, and how it can be used in the classroom.

What is Content-Based Instruction (CBI)?

Content-Based Instruction is an approach to language teaching that focuses not on the language itself, but rather on what is being taught through the language; that is, the language becomes the medium through which something new is learned. IN the CBI approach the student learns the TL by using it to learn sme other new content. For example by studying the French Revolution while using the French langauge. The language being learned and used is taught within the context of the content. The theory behind CBI is that when students are engaged with more content, it will promote intrinsic motivation. Students will be able to use more advanced thinking skills when learning new information and will focus less on the structure of the language. This approach is very student-centered as it depends entirely on the students ability to use the language.

What can be considered content?

There are many things that can be considered content; what is important is that what is being taught or discussed through the language not be language instruction related. Aspects of the curriculum, discussions about current events and world cultures or even general topics of interest are all valid content options.

Imagine you are teaching the past tense to your students. Brainstorm and write down 10 'content' subjects that are related to your target language that you could use to practice this grammar concept (i.e. Teaching about a historical event).

How can CBI be used in the language classroom?

It is not enough to simply integrate content into the language classroom, it must be done effectively. Stoller (2002) lists eight practices that allow for natural content integration: 1. Extended input, meaningful output, and feedback on language and grasp of content 2. Information gathering, processing, and reporting

3. Integrated skills (using reading, writing, speaking and listening in natural classroom activities) 4. Task-based activities and project work, enhanced by cooperative learning principles 5. Strategy training (to produce more metacognitively aware strategic learners) 6. Visual support (ie. Images, graphic organizers, language ladders etc.) 7. Contextualized grammar instruction 8. Culminating synthesis activities (knowledge is dis

9. Today's world language students not only need to be able to communicate in a new language, but also understand the culture, history, way of life, and ideas of people from other countries. 10. This cultural intelligence is key, as students will be joining a global workforce and competing for jobs with people from around the world, says Shari Albright, executive director of education at the Asia Society. 11. "We need students that can adapt quickly to change, be problem solvers," Albright says. 12. To create global thinkers means changing the lessons. If you're teaching French, you know that identifying the Eiffel Tower doesn't mean students understand French culture. Language courses instead should focus on preparing students for meaningful interactions with people from other cultures, inspiring curiosity about the lives of others, and encouraging them to be open to sharing new ideas, says Donna Clementi, from Concordia Language Villages in Minnesota. 13. A focus on communication skills for language students has left the culture side as almost an afterthought, a piece to throw in at the end of a unit, Clementi says. Instead, teachers should start their instruction units with the culture piece and build from there. 14. Clementi suggests handing language students index cards and asking them each to draw their view of the world. Students may draw pictures of the globe or continents mapped out, or they might scribble the names of countries or draw people holding hands in harmony. 15. Whatever the end results, no two will be alike. The lesson illustrates different perspectives, and is a great launching pad to a discussion about those differences, Clementi says. Keep the cards and let students revisit their perspective and see how it changes as the class moves forward. 16. Another way to introduce culture beyond the obvious signs and symbols of a country is to take a subject such as the environment, and get students talking about it in the language they're learning. That means planning the unit, asking the question, such as, "Are you green?" and then giving them the vocabulary they need for the specific lesson. 17. "If those vocabulary are useful in answering this question, students are going to be more engaged in wanting to remember those words," Clementi says. "Rather than teaching about language, we're actually using language to learn content." 18. In an environmental lesson in a Chinese language class, you can discuss--in Chinese--what the United States does to help the environment, actions that China takes, and what the students themselves do to be "green." Then ask what's important about taking environmental

action here and in China. Students also might listen to scenes of daily life in China, watch a video clip, or look at pictures. Beginning students can use keywords, such as the colors and shapes, to describe what they see or hear, and more advanced students can have discussions and create projects about the global issue, Clementi says. 19. It doesn't end there, Albright and Clementi both agree. Take it to the next level and inspire your students to take action on the issue, asking them what they could do locally to help the environment. 20. "If we only teach about the world, but don't get them to the point of taking action, it's not an interesting learning experience for kids," Albright says. 21. Clementi advises teachers to pick a topic that's important for students to discuss and that will help them understand the world, the culture of the language they're studying, and their own culture. And at the end of the semester or year, have them look at their index card to see how their view of the world has changed. 22. As teachers, it's about "saying to yourself: I have a bigger mission than making sure that my students know 25 vocabulary words," Clementi says. "My bigger mission is to try to help them think about the world."

Content-based instruction
Submitted by NikPeachey on 13 August, 2003 - 13:00 In recent years content-based instruction has become increasingly popular as a means of developing linguistic ability. It has strong connections to project work, task-based learning and a holistic approach to language instruction and has become particularly popular within the state school secondary (11 16 years old) education sector.

What is content-based instruction? What does a content-based instruction lesson look like? What are the advantages of content-based instruction? What are the potential problems? Conclusions

What is content-based instruction?

The focus of a CBI lesson is on the topic or subject matter. During the lesson students are focused on learning about something. This could be anything that interests them from a serious science subject to their favourite pop star or even a topical news story or film. They learn about this subject using the language they are trying to learn, rather than their native language, as a tool for developing knowledge and so they develop their linguistic ability in the target language. This is thought to be a more natural way of developing language ability and one that corresponds more to the way we originally learn our first language.

What does a content-based instruction lesson look like?

There are many ways to approach creating a CBI lesson. This is one possible way.

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Preparation Choose a subject of interest to students. Find three or four suitable sources that deal with different aspects of the subject. These could be websites, reference books, audio or video of lectures or even real people. During the lesson Divide the class into small groups and assign each group a small research task and a source of information to use to help them fulfil the task. Then once they have done their research they form new groups with students that used other information sources and share and compare their information. There should then be some product as the end result of this sharing of information which could take the form of a group report or presentation of some kind.

What are the advantages of content-based instruction?

It can make learning a language more interesting and motivating. Students can use the language to fulfil a real purpose, which can make students both more independent and confident. Students can also develop a much wider knowledge of the world through CBI which can feed back into improving and supporting their general educational needs. CBI is very popular among EAP (English for Academic Purposes) teachers as it helps students to develop valuable study skills such as note taking, summarising and extracting key information from texts. Taking information from different sources, re-evaluating and restructuring that information can help students to develop very valuable thinking skills that can then be transferred to other subjects. The inclusion of a group work element within the framework given above can also help students to develop their collaborative skills, which can have great social value.

What are the potential problems?

Because CBI isn't explicitly focused on language learning, some students may feel confused or may even feel that they aren't improving their language skills. Deal with this by including some form of language focused follow-up exercises to help draw attention to linguistic features within the materials and consolidate any difficult vocabulary or grammar points. Particularly in monolingual classes, the overuse of the students' native language during parts of the lesson can be a problem. Because the lesson isn't explicitly focused on language practice students find it much easier and quicker to use their mother tongue. Try sharing your rationale with students and explain the benefits of using the target language rather than their mother tongue. It can be hard to find information sources and texts that lower levels can understand. Also the sharing of information in the target language may cause great difficulties. A possible way around this at lower levels is either to use texts in the students' native language and then get them to use the target language for the sharing of information and end product, or to have texts in the target language, but allow the students to present the end product in their native language. These options should reduce the level of challenge. Some students may copy directly from the source texts they use to get their information. Avoid this by designing tasks that demand students evaluate the information in some way, to draw conclusions or actually to put it to some practical use. Having information sources that have conflicting information can also be helpful as students have to decide which information they agree with or most believe.


While CBI can be both challenging and demanding for the teacher and the students, it can also be very stimulating and rewarding. The degree to which you adopt this approach may well depend on the willingness of your students, the institution in which you work and the availability of resources within your environment. It could be something that your school wants to consider introducing across the curriculum or something that you experiment with just for one or two lessons. Whichever you choose to do I would advise that you try to involve other teachers within your school, particularly teachers from other subjects. This could help you both in terms of finding sources of information and in having the support of others in helping you to evaluate your work. Lastly, try to involve your students. Get them to help you decide what topics and subjects the lessons are based around and find out how they feel this kind of lessons compares to your usual lessons. In the end they will be the measure of your success.